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The Hefty Price of Normal

Years ago, when Chris and I were considering our options for housing after we moved back home, we looked at a piece of property about twenty-five minutes from my parents' house. It was a former quarry that included several acres for about $50,000. We ran the numbers and figured that we could probably afford it if we did a lot of DIY on whatever house we built there.

And then I got this knot in my stomach. It felt like I was sinking or like gravity had suddenly increased. We pulled back and reconsidered, and the relief of that decision was astonishing.

A few months later, we purchased our home for about $40,000. Even signing those papers was a pretty heavy feeling. That was a lot of money for us. It still is. But I have never regretted forgoing that property we were looking at and going with a park model instead. It was a wise choice to not overextend ourselves reaching for just a little bit more.

It is interesting to me sometimes to try to see the world the way others seem to see it. We live with less, and it's been the right decision for us, while many people around us seems to think we're crazy. Or lazy. Or both.

My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting a little one, and they are hoping to buy a bigger home closer to town before their son arrives. She fell in love with a house--and it is a gorgeous house--and their offer has been accepted contingent on the sale of their current home. I look at the pictures, and I can see why they love it. But then I look at the price tag and I do the math. How many hours will it take them to pay for this purchase? How much time apart from each other and their little one? Not just for today or tomorrow or a year or ten years, but for decades. I do not fault anyone who works hard to provide for their family's needs and even wants. It is a laudable thing, the right thing, to take care of one's own so far as it is possible to do so.

But I look at my two girls, and I can't imagine making that sacrifice of time just to own a more fabulous home.

Even more so, I can't believe that this is society's definition of normal.

Why is this is the measure of success? The large home. The new cars. The expensive vacations. So many things that our family doesn't have and probably never will.

It doesn't bother me most days. We value different things, for better and for worse, than other people value. Our priorities are different. We don't love our kids any more than the next person, and we are surely not better parents because we choose to make do with less. Good parenting is measured on an entirely different scale. It is hard sometimes, though, to know that the world sees us as settling for less, as less successful than others who have made more traditional investments. We made these lifestyle choices deliberately years ago as an investment of time rather than money, and I am so glad that we did, especially as we have dealt with health issues that most people our age don't even have to think about. We knew at the time that we were going counter cultural, but it seemed worthwhile. It still does.

There's certainly nothing inherently wrong with choosing the big, expensive house and everything that goes with it, but there is definitely value in the adequate smaller home as well. What's right for one family will look different from what's right for another. Living in a small space with kids is not always easy. I just wonder how long it will take for the world to see more modest living as something to be pursued and appreciated in its own right.

In the meantime, I hope my brother-in-law and his wife are successful in their pursuits, and I hope that their dreams come true. I would love to visit them in their dream home and make some new family memories there together. I can see our kids running through the house, laughing and chasing each other. I'm sure it will be a lovely place to bring their firstborn home to in a few months, and I imagine that they will fill the house with love and laughter and good times. They are kind, thoughtful, hardworking people, and this property will be an investment for them in so many ways.

I just personally can't fathom paying such a hefty price for it.


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